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ote in the College edition of Websters New World Dictionary., n, [Fr. ;ML. Anecdota;Gr. Anekdota, neut. Pl. of anecdots unpublished;an-, not+ekdotos<ekdidonai;ek-, out+didonai, to give]

  1. pl. Originally, little-known, entertaining facts of history or biography; hence,
  2. a short, entertaining account of some happening, usually personal or biographical. SIN. , see story.


This dictionary makes etymology one of its strong features and so serves exceptionally well for our purpose.

The following things about this entry are of interest:

1) The entry word, printed in boldface to give it more prominence, is divided by periods into its three syllables. This form of division not only helps out with the pronunciation of a word, but it also gives assistance to one whohas to divide a word at the end of a line of writing or printing.

In such cases, words should be devided with respect to their syllables.

2) then, within curves, the word is rewritten, this time in symbols that show pronunciation. A heavy accent mark, immediately follows the syllable which receives most stress, and a lighter mark indicates the syllable getting minor stress. A sylable, here Ik, which gets no stress is followed by a hyphen. Following the indication of pronuciation comes the abbreviation of the of speech to wich the word belongs.

  1. It is well-accepted dictionary procedure to place etymologies in square brackets just after the indication of the part of speech of the word involved. Etymology easier to follow if we begin at the very end of it and proceed back to its beginning.

In Greek there was a verb, “didinai”, meaning “to give”. A common prefix, ek-, was often used before this verb and it then became “ekdidonai” (to give out). From this expanded form of the verb Greek formed an adjective, “ekdotos”, given out. In Greek it was customary to prefix an- to adjectives beginning with a vowel and thus reverse or negate their meanings. So the Greeks formed “anekdotos”, not given out.

Greek adjectives had masculine, feminine, and neuter forms. The neuter plural of “anekdotos” was “anekdota”, unpublished things, that is, things not given out. Latin, during the medieval period, borrowed “anekdota” in the form “anecdota”. This latin term passed into French, where it was spelled “anecdote”. From French the word, unchanged in form, passed into English.

  1. The meanings are given in the order of their ages, the oldest meaning being given first. Observe how original meaning ledon to sense 2, the one which nowadays the word usually has.
  2. At the very end of the entry there is a reference to story for a presentation of the synonyms of “anekdote”.

Dictionaries perform a useful service by distinguishing between such terms as “anecdote”, “narrative”, “tale”, “story”.

Of course, the larger a dictionary is, the more information one can obtain from it. Here is the entry “anecdote” as it appears in the current large unabridged Websters New International dictionary, Second edition.

anec-dote (anek-dot; anik-), n

[Fr. Fr. Ir. Anekdotos not published, fr. An- not + ekdotos given out, fr. Ekdidonai to gove out, to publish, fr ek- out+didonai to give. See DATE point of time]

  1. pl. Literally, unpublished items; narratives of secret or private details of history;-often in book titles Now rare.
  2. A narrative, sually brief, of a separable incident or event of curious interst, told without nealice and usually with intent to amuse or please,often biographical and vharacteristic of some notable person,esp. of his likable faibles. (Some modern anecdotes over, he noded in his elbow chair. Prior)

Syn. see story.

Anec-dote v. I. To tell anecdotes-v. t.

To use as a subject for anecdotes. Both rare.

Notice that the etymology here ends with a reference to the entry DATE, meaning a point of time. An inspection of the etymology “given of that entry reveals that “anecdote” belongs to a group of words that are related because they all trace their ancestry, in whole or in part, back to the same IE root that os seen in the Greek verb didonai, meaning to give. Here is the lst of words Webster cities as being related in the manner indicated: anecdote, condone, dado, damu, dative, datum, die, n..., donate, dose, dower, edit, pardon, render, sacerdotal.

One of the unique and highly valuable features of the unabridged Merriam-Webster is that it often groups words basically related, because they, or parts of them, go back to a common ancestor word. No othe english dictionary gives so much of this kind of information. Some of the commonest words in the language have a surpisingly large number of relatives.

In the dictionary Century the entry of the word anecdote is as follows:

Anecdote(anek-dot), n[<F. Anecdote,

First in pl. Anecdotes, M. L. Anecdota, <Gr. , pl., things unpublished, applied by Procopius to his memoirs of Justinian, which consisted chiefly of gossip about the private life of the court;prop. Neut. pl. of ]

  1. pl. secret history; facts relating to secret or private affairs, as of governments or of individuals: often used (commonly in the form anecdota) as the title of works treating of such matters.
  2. A short narrative of a particular or detached incident; a single passage of private life, =Syn. Anecdote, Story.

An anecdote is the relation of an interesting or amusing incident, generally of a private nature, and is always reported as true/

A story may be true or fictious, and generally has reference to a series of incidents so arranged and related as to be entertaining.

In this treatment of the word there are some things not observed before:

  1. as is often done in dictionaries, thi sign < is used freely in the sense of from. One instance of its use is seen in the etymology above.
  2. According to the etymology given here, the form which anecdote had in French was the plural, a form to be expected from the words being derived from a plural in Latin and in Greek. With this informatinon, it is easier to understand why it was in its plural form that the word made its first appearance in Engish.
  3. The remainder f the Century entry is easily understood with the possible exeption of the abbreviation”priv,. ” for privative, a word used in grammar in connection with those prefixes which change the sense of a word from a positive to a negative one, as do un-, il-, in-, ir-, in English.(Compae such words as lawful, unlawful, legal, illegal; tolerant, intolerant, regular, irregular). Greek made use of a prefix of this kind, a-, which might also appear as an-. In Greek grammar this prefix is referred to as” alpha privative”

It may appear to the beginner that by this time we have certainly found out all there is to know about anecdote, but we have not.

Here is how the entry looks in the Oxford English dictionary.

Anecdote( ). [a fr. Anecdote, or ad. Its source, med. L. Anecdota(see sense I), a. Gr. Things unpublished, f. Published, f. To give out, publish, applied by Procopies to his “Unpublished Memories” of the of the Emperor Justinian, which consisted chiefly of tales of the private life of the court;whence the application of the name to short stories or particulars]

1) pl. Secret, private, or hitherbo unpublished narratives or details of history. (At first, and how again occas. Used in L form anecdota( ) 1676 MARVELL Mr. Smirke Wks. 1875 IV.41. A man ... might make a pleasant story of the anecdota of that meeting. 1727. Swift”Gulliver” VIII. 230. Those who pretend to write anecdotes, or secret history[...]

2) The narrative of a detached incident, or of a single event, event told as being in itself interesting or striking( At first, An item of gossip)

1761 Gorke in Ellis Orig. Left 11. 483. IV. 429. Monsieur Coccei will tell you all the anecdotes of London better then I can[...] 1838. Ht. Martineau Demerara

12. He told some anecdotes of Alfreds childhood. Mod. An after-dinner anecdote

b. collect

1826 Disraeli Viv. Grey 3. II. 95 A companion who knew everything, everyone, full of wit and anecdote.

3) Comb. , as anecdote-book, -loving;anecdote-monger a retailer of anecdotes[...]


  1. With the information already given, it is easy to understand the etymology of this entry. It should be observed that according to it, anecdote may not have come into English from French, but directly from midieval Latin. That this source is likely is suggested by the spelling the word has in the earliest example found of its use in English. Had it come from french anecdotes, it is not easy to see why Marvel in 1676 spelled it anecdota. Of course, it may have come into English both from French and from Latin.
  2. The most noteworthy feature of this entry, and of the dictionary from which it comes, is that the definitions are followed by examples of the use of the word in the senses given. These examples all follow the same pattern. First comes the date, than the authors name in small capitals, than thie title of the work cited, usually abbreviated, followed by the number of the page. The use of illustrative quotationsis a marked feature of historical dictionaries. They are given generously in the OED, there being about 1827306 of them in that great work.

It wod be a mistake, however, to conclude that the earliest example given in